The Supreme Court handed down its decision on whether the million and a half women who think they have been discriminated against by the corporate giant because of their gender can bring a class action suit.
As might be expected in this age of corporatism, the corporate giant won. Women will have to pursue their own individual cases--making it much easier for the corporate giant to simply wait them out rather than settle, and making it much harder for the woment to hire the kind of top-notch attorneys (like the corporation can hire) to fight their case for them. In other words, making it much much easier for the corporate giant to get away with breaking the law in its business practices on a routine basis without having to pay for it.
I feel some personal stake in this. I don't work at Wal Mart, but the few times I've been into a store, I have felt extraordinarily worried about the many women who work there. They seem silenced. I visited once to ask about their joining in our effort to publicize work of unions. I was told--furtively--by several women clerks I approached on the floor that "I'll be fired if the management finds out I am talking to a customer about unions" and "we can't post anything about unions, even in our work area--the management comes along and tears it down immediately." The women in particular seemed distraught over the low pay, the fact that much of their work wasn't counted (apparently, the firm had a practice of making people wait to punch in AFTER they had done some of the preliminary startup chores, even though the start-up chores were an essential part of the work), and similar practices. I didn't hear tales that time about gender harassment, but I didn't specifically ask about that.
The Supreme Court's excuse for not allowing the class action to go forward is that the case would be, among other things, too "unwieldy" and that the women had too large a variety of factual circumstances to be lumped together in one class. That is a sop to corporatism if I ever saw one. Of course, the bigger the corporation and the more law-breaking its discrimination, the more likely a class action suit against it will be unwieldy simply because there will be more people in it. And the worse the corporation is on the legal issue at stake, the more likely that the underlying absolute (gender discrimination and harassment, pay inequity) will present itself in multiple forms. But they are all variants of the same thing--a corporate giant treating its workers with disrespect, particularly its women workers. Let's face it. "We've come a long way, baby" but we are nowhere near the end of inequitable treatment of women in the workplace.
Even in academe, men tend to get equity pay raises (big ones) because they play the "game" of pretending that they are going to take a job somewhere else. Women tend not to, because women tend to be honest about their permanence or impermanence in a place. So men get a "retention" raise and women don't. And men tend to start out higher anyway, because of the years of male dominance, and the tendency of the existing status quo to be reinforced by the male deans and male associate deans and male senior professors.
So what's the answer here? Maybe we need some radical left thinking to counter the radical right fringe element that has almost taken over the country. How about these ideas--many using tax policy to turn around the corporatist agenda?
- Congress could pass a law facilitating class action lawsuits of the kind that the million-plus women tried to bring against Wal-Mart. If it doesn't, it is essentially saying that corporate giants can break the law whenever they want, because individual women (or individual black men, or individual members of any discrete and insular minority) will not have the money and time to fight the deep corporate pockets--pockets that got that deep, in part, by exploiting women.
- Congress could consider instituting a tax penalty on firms for gender or ethnicity or age discrimination in wages--i.e., a strict liability penalty that does not require court action to vindicate exploited groups. To the extent that women with approximately the same skill sets/degrees/experience are paid less than men (or blacks less than whites, etc.), the company should have to pay a penalty equal to some relatively small percentage of its executive compensation (all-in, including options) for the top 30% of the company.
- Congress could institute an excise tax on corporations with more than $100 million in income annually, to go into a fund to pay the legal expenses of employees in those firms bringing individual suits against the firms for violating any civil or union rights.
- Congress could institute a variable corporate rate structure through a rate surcharge for corporations that relates to their record in paying their average workers an equitable salary by having the corporate tax rate increase when the compensation of top managers increases more rapidly than the compensation of the average worker, and a corporate tax rate decrease when the compensation of the average worker increases more rapidly than the compensation of the top managers.
Other ideas about how to use the tax system to redress the Supreme Court's twisted view of treating abstract legal entities (corporations) better than it treats the citizens of this land?